Investigators have located the flight data recorder, also known as a black box, that might hold information about a deadly plane crash in Nunavut on Saturday.
The plane was on its way from Winnipeg to the community when Perimeter Aviation charter Flight 671 crashed as the aircraft approached the runway around 6:13 p.m. ET Saturday. Keewatin Air, which is also known as Kivalliq Air in the North, had chartered the Fairchild Metro 3/23 twin-engine turbo prop aircraft for the flight.
The crash claimed the life of a six-month-old boy. All of the other eight people on board, including the pilot and co-pilot, survived and are being treated for non-life-threatening injuries.
The pilot and co-pilot who were involved were flown to a Winnipeg hospital for treatment Sunday morning. Hospital officials in Winnipeg discharged the pilot early Sunday afternoon. The co-pilot is still in hospital in stable condition.
The plane, seen here at the crash site in Sanikiluaq, was a Fairchild Metro 3/23 twin-engine turbo prop. (Transportation Safety Board of Canada)
The RCMP and the Nunavut coroner’s office are attending the crash site. The Transportation Safety Board of Canada plans to launch a full investigation.
Julie Leroux, a spokeswoman for the TSB, said officials will study the black box to help determine what happened.
Gayle Conners, the TSB investigator handling the case, confirmed the plane was on its second east-to-west approach, with blowing snow conditions in the area, when it went down off the westerly end of the runway. East to west is the normal approach for Sanikiluaq.
Conners said that while the TSB is not at the crash site, there are people there taking photos and measurements. Conners said they will not send a team to the crash site, but that could change as they learn more.
The TSB has also ordered a weather study from Environment Canada.
The airplane carrying Perimeter Aviation personnel left Winnipeg for the community around 7:30 a.m. local time on Sunday. The presidents of Perimeter and Keewatin Air are in the community to lend their support to people in any way they way can.
They will also look at the crash site and meet where people from the community are gathering.
Ryder said Perimeter Aviation will continue normal operations today.
Many people in the mainly Inuit community are upset by the crash, but grateful the tragedy didn’t claim more lives. The community’s health centre has been praised for its treatment in dealing with the injured.
Passenger recalls frantic moments after crash
A woman who was on the plane said she heard the child’s frantic mother crying as she and the other survivors clamoured from the wreckage to safety.
Malaya Uppik said she doesn’t know how the tiny six-month-old was killed and doesn’t remember much about the crash, but she can still hear the mother’s screams.
Another view of the plane on the ground near the airport in Sanikiluaq. The crash site is about half a kilometre from the runway. (RCMP)
“I remember she was crying: ‘My baby. I lost my baby,'” Uppik, 46, said from her home in Sanikiluaq. “I only hear that she was crying ‘My baby’ and ‘I lost my baby’ and that’s all I remember.”
Uppik was among nine people — seven passengers and two pilots — on the chartered Fairchild Metro 3/23 twin-engine turbo prop when it crashed while landing Saturday night at the airport in Sanikiluaq.
RCMP say the crash occurred near the end of the runway, which sits on the north tip of Flaherty Island, roughly 150 kilometres from the Quebec shoreline. The Transportation Safety Board confirmed there was some blowing snow at the time of the crash, but said it was too early to say whether that played a role.
Some of the passengers on board, including Uppik, were in Winnipeg for medical appointments and were on their way home. Uppik said the baby, a boy, came along on the trip with his mother because he was still breast feeding. RCMP would not confirm the child’s identity.
The primary language in Sanikiluaq is Inuktitut. Uppik struggled to recall what happened in English.
“When the plane crashed, I don’t remember what I was doing,” she said. “I didn’t black out, but … when we looked like crashing, I just closed my eyes.”
When she opened them, Uppik said she heard the pilot yelling for people to get out.
“The pilot went across my seat. He cracked the window. He told us to go out right away,” she said.
The ground was slippery with fuel, she said, but there was no fire. It was dark and she didn’t see the other passengers or how badly they were hurt.
She and another survivor were met by motorized sleds on the runway and loaded on a trailer for the ride back to the airport.
Uppik said she bit her tongue, but was otherwise fine. “I’m just a little bit tired right now.”
Sarah Qavvik, another passenger, said she suffered bruises and hit her head. “It was so scary,” she said. “I’m still in shock.”
Nunavut Premier Eva Aariak expressed her condolences in a statement.
“It is with profound sadness that I offer my condolences to everyone affected by the tragic plane crash,” she said. “During this holiday season, my thoughts and prayers are with the loved ones of the infant whose life ended far too soon, to the survivors, and to the entire community of Sanikiluaq.”
Sanikiluaq airport can be challenging, says pilot
A pilot who has flown around the Arctic, including into Sanikiluaq, said the airport there can present some challenges.
“Every runway in the Arctic has its own quirks. The airport itself [in Sanikiluaq] is not particularly challenging, but there are some unique aspects of it,” said Nick Czernkovich.
He said pilots can only approach the runway there from east to west. However, Czernkovich said the weather Saturday favoured a landing from the west to the east. The pilots would have had to make a decision to either travel a bit faster and go for a straight-in landing, or circle in for the opposite runway.
“On the first case you’re coming in faster. In the second case you have to make sure that you maintain visual [of the runway] while you’re circling,” he said.
“The bigger problem with Sanikiluaq is because it’s so open, as soon as you get fresh snow on the ground, visibilities can drop very quickly and they can be very changeable,” he said. “In my limited experience in that airport, that’s been the biggest challenge… variable weather from literally minute to minute.”
Visibility right before and after the crash was between three 10 kilometres, which Czernkovich said is not too bad.
5 deadly crashes in the North in 2 years
The North has been shaken by five deadly plane crashes in the past two years.
In August 2011, a First Air 737 passenger jet that was flying from Yellowknife to Resolute, Nunavut, crashed into a hill near Resolute, killing 12 of the 15 passengers and crew on board.
Usually, TSB reports take about year to complete after a crash. The TSB has yet to release its report on the Resolute investigation, saying it was a complex incident.
It did, however, release two safety recommendations since its interim report on the crash.
Several lawsuits have been filed in connection with that crash.
In September of the same year, a pilot and a co-pilot were killed when an Arctic Sunwest Charters Twin Otter float plane crashed into a vacant lot between two buildings in Yellowknife. All seven passengers on that plane were injured.
In October 2011, an Air Tindi Cessna Caravan carrying four people crashed near the community of Lutselk’e, N.W.T., which is about 200 kilometres east of Yellowknife. The pilot and one passenger died in that crash, while the two other passengers were injured.
In July 2012, a pilot was killed and another man was seriously injured when a helicopter crashed in southern Yukon. The pilot had lived and worked as in Yellowknife for years. The R44 Raven II helicopter was owned by Whitehorse-based Horizon Helicopters.
With files from The Canadian Press